Human Rights Commissioner urges Cyprus to probe migrant pushbacks

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Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, urges Cypriot authorities to investigate allegations of pushbacks and ill-treatment of migrants from Lebanon last September.

In a letter to Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, Mijatović also raises concerns about reception facility conditions for asylum seekers and calls on Cyprus to ensure an enabling environment for NGOs.

In his reply, Nouris says authorities respected EU and international law when dealing with boat arrivals from Lebanon last September.

“Cyprus authorities are aware and respect the provisions of the EU acquis, which were taken into consideration during the negotiations; leading to the relevant Readmission Agreement between Cyprus and Lebanon.”

Nouris said that procedures had been adjusted to meet the needs arising from the pandemic’s unprecedented situation concerning reception centres.

As for the deregistration of NGOs, he says that there is only one case in front of the Supreme Court.

The Commissioner’s letter, on 10 March,  was released Thursday by the Council of Europe, along with Nouris’ reply on 16 March 2021.

Mijatović said she received reports “indicating that boats carrying migrants, including persons who may be in need of international protection, have been prevented from disembarking in Cyprus, and summarily returned, sometimes violently, without any possibility for their passengers to access the asylum procedure.

“I urge the Cypriot authorities to ensure that independent and effective investigations are carried out into allegations of push backs and ill-treatment by members of security forces.”

Mijatović said conditions in reception facilities for asylum seekers and migrants “raise a number of concerns” such as “Overcrowding, lack of hygiene, and difficulties in accessing health, social and asylum services”.

The Commissioner acknowledges that sea crossings and arrivals pose considerable challenges for Cyprus, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but human rights obligations must be “respected”.

Mijatović urges the Cypriot authorities to bring reception conditions in line with applicable human rights standards and ensure that asylum seekers and migrants enjoy effective access to all necessary services.

She invites authorities to allow access to all relevant actors providing services to asylum seekers and migrants and/or independently monitoring these centres.

Nouris said Cyprus faced “huge challenges concerning arrivals of irregular migrants on the island, 70% of which result from flows either directly from Turkey, by boat, or via the occupied areas of Cyprus, through the Green Line.

In September 2020, it was agreed that 6 out of the 10 vessels carrying Lebanese nationals should return to Lebanon.

“Cyprus authorities prevented the irregular entry of Lebanese migrants that did not request international protection and managed to return them with safety to Lebanon.”

Some 24 Lebanese nationals disembarked to apply for international protection, the minister said.

During 2020, 682 Syrian and Lebanese migrants arrived irregularly on the island or were detected at the sea borders attempting to disembark.

Some 210 Lebanese nationals detected at sea were returned to Lebanon since they stated that their destination was not Cyprus but Italy.

The exit from two Reception Centres was prohibited during a national lockdown on the whole population, said Nouris. (source CNA)